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'SAFEDOR' completes four years of research on safe and innovative ship design, operation and regulation

EU-funded SAFEDOR is the first project to develop a risk-based ship design and regulatory framework to achieve safety cost-effectively by treating it as an objective and not as a constraint.

Marine vessel with life boat © Peter Gutierrez
Safety on the high seas with
© Peter Gutierrez

In the maritime sector, rules and regulations governing the design, construction and operation of seagoing ships are established by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, and by classification societies. As shipping is perhaps the most international of all the world's large industries, this approach has been recognised as an appropriate way of ensuring safety at sea.

Current rules and regulations constrain ship design down to a considerable level of detail, imposing boundary conditions on design parameters with the implicit aim of achieving a certain level of safety performance. However this approach does have drawbacks. For example, target safety levels are not explicitly specified, and the rationales behind regulations are frequently not known by engineers, operators and seafarers.

Innovation in the transportation sector has been driven to a significant extent by safety. As an example, cars now have integrated crash energy dissipating elements and airbags to provide impact protection in accidents. On the other hand, ship safety has mainly been driven by individual events. Each major catastrophic accident has led to a new safety regulations imposed by the IMO and the classification societies. This has been the case since the Titanic accident that initiated the development of the SOLAS convention.

SAFEDOR responds

The SAFEDOR project developed core elements of a modern risk-based regulatory framework, a risk-based ship design framework and associated first-principle safety-performance predictions tools and applied the knowledge to a series of ship and system design cases. With a total budget of €20 million, SAFEDOR represents one of the largest collaborative European projects ever launched in the maritime sector focussing on ship safety. Over 50 partners representing all stakeholders of the maritime industry contributed to the project under the coordination of Germanischer Lloyd (GL), a leading classification society.

SAFEDOR developed a new methodology integrating probabilistic / risk-based approaches in the design and approval processes for ships and ship systems. Safety is included as an additional quantified design objective – along traditional performance requirements like speed, capacity, endurance etc. And risk is used as measure to evaluate the effectiveness of design changes with respect to safety.

With a number of key results submitted to IMO, SAFEDOR started to influence the debate at the IMO on risk-based approaches for ship design and paved the way for a modern risk-based regulatory framework, explains Dr. Pierre C. Sames, Chairman of the SAFEDOR Steering Committee and Senior Vice President of GL’s Strategic Research and Development business unit.

SAFEDOR today is often associated with Goal-Based Standards (GBS) although key differences exist. The IMO debate on GBS will result in a new framework which is then applicable to rule makers. GBS will be rules for rules. SAFEDOR focuses on individual ship design and the necessary regulatory framework to approve risk-based ships and systems. However, knowledge gained in SAFEDOR can also be used to create risk-based rules for ships and ship systems and to support the development of the so-called Safety-Level Approach to GBS.

Key dissemination event

SAFEDOR project partners presented their results and conclusions at a final conference held at the IMO headquarters in London in April 2009. The conference drew about 150 participants, including professionals from the whole spectrum of the maritime industry, as well as the European Commission and representatives of the media.

In his keynote speech, IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos confirmed the important role played by the project in the trend towards a more risk-based regulatory framework.

The approach

Specific development objectives of the project included a risk-based and internationally accepted regulatory framework, design methods and tools to assess operational, extreme, accidental and catastrophic scenarios, accounting for the human element, prototype designs for safety-critical vessels and systems as well as systematic knowledge management through training and numerous dissemination activities like public annual reports and annual seminars and conferences. SAFEDOR partners also published well over 250 scientific papers.

To document the existing risk levels for major ship types, SAFEDOR performed a series of Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) studies and submitted these to IMO. In addition, risk evaluation criteria and the novel approval process for efficiently handling risk-based and novel ship designs and systems were submitted to IMO.

SAFEDOR researchers developed new safety-performance prediction tools related to flooding, structural integrity, intact stability, collision and grounding, and fire, system failures, as well as ship type specific risk-cost-earning models. These new tools became the building blocks of an integrated design environment, a first prototype of which was developed and elaborated in co-operation with shipyards and design offices.

SAFEDOR also developed a series of novel ship systems and new designs for cruise vessels, ropax vessels, gas tankers, oil tankers and container vessels. Innovative features include large fire safety zones, lightweight super structures, and new damage stability arrangements aimed at balancing cargo space with grounding risks, reducing oil outflow and increasing operational flexibility. The novel systems focused on navigation, power distribution and life saving, selected with the knowledge that in particular these ship functions contribute to ship’s safety performance.

SAFEDOR for industry

SAFEDOR results will benefit all maritime players across Europe, says Sames. Innovation has been a driving factor for both profitability and safety in many industries, he explains. But in the maritime industry, the particular regulatory approach has left little leeway to exploit it. SAFEDOR has made new avenues for shipping innovation available for European industry with respect to both economy and safety.

With risk-based approaches firmly established in the maritime industry, ship owners will be able to realise innovative ships and maritime transport solutions which cannot be approved today, relating to, e.g., new layouts challenging damage stability regulations or use of new materials and systems challenging current SOLAS regulations.

Ship yards will benefit from the introduction of risk-based approaches through enabling novel and optimised ships incorporating new layouts, functions and materials. The benefits arise from the fact that yards acquainted with risk-based approaches are among the first to respond to the increasing demand from ship owners to realise novel and innovative ships - which may challenge current prescriptive rules. In addition, production costs may be reduced through application of risk-based approaches. Thus, understanding and applying risk-based approaches now will be a competitive advantage.

Marine equipment manufacturers will benefit from the introduction of risk-based approaches through enabling new and optimised systems incorporating new functions and materials.

Engineering service providers and software producers for simulation tools will also benefit from SAFEDOR's novel approach to 'design for safety'.

SAFEDOR for Europe

Ultimately, risk-based ship design and approval processes will go a long way towards satisfying European society's demands for safer and more cost-effective maritime transport. With the new risk-based approaches becoming progressively accepted at IMO and, therefore, at national flag-state level, industry will be able to capitalise on the design freedom becoming available. Introducing safety as a design objective opens the door to innovative ship designs. Thus, SAFEDOR will eventually succeed to enhance safety through innovation and, at the same time, to strengthen the competitiveness of the European maritime industry.

The Commission's primary aim remains to enhance the quality and competitiveness of the European shipping sector through enhanced ship safety, and this is what SAFEDOR has sought to achieve. The project has resulted in a coherent means by which innovative ship design can be encouraged, recognised and approved under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation, while maintaining ship safety as its basic premise.